Los Angeles, CA
One of my friends is a veteran Hollywood scribe and summed up this situation best on Twitter: "Hey, @wsop, what part of "Never go out of your way to piss off a writer" was unclear?"
I'm sure the WSOP had legitimate reasons for creating this unwritten rule (poker media cannot play in any WSOP event, but cash games and satellites are permitted) in the first place. But they should have waited until everyone posted their fluff pieces about the press conference before giving everyone the bad news.
Hence why the WSOP was one big Fail Whale on Twitter on Wednesday. Instead of us filling the echo chamber with nifty PR sound bites, everyone went on the war path. Today should have been a day to laud the fact that live poker, especially the WSOP, is the new King after the post-Black Friday online poker apocalypse had given way to a New World Order of Poker.
Never go out of your way to piss off a writer...especially the ones who have to promote your brand during devastating economic times in America.
So while reporters were penning their recaps of the WSOP press conference (which included introductions of new sponsors and rule changes), word spread fast via Twitter that the WSOP was prohibiting members of the press from playing in the WSOP.
A shitstorm ensued.
Actually, it was an volcanic eruption, followed by an earthquake, which triggered a tsunami, and then hailstones made out of monkey feces rained from the sky.
Instead of poker scribes focusing on the highlights from the press conference, they will spend the next 24-48 hours raising hell in every place possible. Even some poker pros known for hating the media were rushing to our defense. I guess the old adage applies... my eneny's enemy is my best friend.
For the record, I had no intentions in playing in the 2011 WSOP. I'm a cash game player and not a tournament player, but these days I'm more of a commodities trader and a sportsbettor. I play substantially more hands Pai Gow than poker.
But this unwritten rule ambushing the media became a wrinkle in the Year of Poker Media. The way everyone in the press was running at the tables, it was not improbable that one of us was going to final table a WSOP event.
I had many friends in the media with intentions on playing at least one or more events. For many reps, a single WSOP event is their only reward and bonus for working the grind of the WSOP. For women in poker media, many of them get to play in the Ladies Event. But no more.
A few friends of mine are semi-pros and supplement their income with both poker and reporting. I tried to play poker for a living in 2003-04 and when things went south, I began writing freelance pieces to guarantee a steady flow of income. My situation changed in the last few years and I supported myself exclusively on writing. I used poker winnings to fund Phish tour and self-publish Lost Vegas. I had to decline a few months of work assignment to write the book, so my summer poker winnings gave me breathing room.
But it's absurd for the WSOP to tell any one that they can't make a living playing poker. With a few exceptions, when you add up the hourly rate of an average WSOP reporter, it's slightly above minimum wage. Throw in exorbitant and inflated food prices and it's practically extortion.
After Black Friday, many reporters are going to the WSOP without knowing if they are going to get paid. And the ones who weren't laid off had to suck it up and take a pay cut. Their only solace was the WSOP itself. They could parlay a satellite score into a buy-in to a WSOP event and have a chance to make money. A min-cash in a donkament might be a month of pay for some reporters.
Back in the day... the WSOP press room used to give out free bottled water, soda, coffee, and pastries. Times changed. Due to an internal pissing match between the WSOP and Harrah's the WSOP media room got billed up the ass for the beverages and snacks. Alas, they stopped giving us freebies. We now have to rely on a single water cooler to hydrate the press corp. Luckily, I scored a food comp a couple of times a week, but many other reps weren't so lucky.
I know the only power I have is where I spend my money, and because of that I attempted to spend as little money inside the Rio as possible. I'd rather give my money elsewhere and that trend will continue in the future. I used to play cash games once in a while at the Rio. I see no incentive to play this year.
Despite the popularity of the Hooker Bar, many of the media hang out at the Gold Coast or locals casinos when our shifts are over. Why? It's cheaper than the Rio. We're not ballers. Many of us work paycheck to paycheck. We'd hang out, gamble, eat, drink, and party more at the Rio -- if the prices were better suited to the average poker reporters' paltry income.
One chapter in Lost Vegas sums up my experience playing in the only WSOP event I cashed. I'm not the only writer to have played in the WSOP. Many of the best books in poker literature occurred because the writer was permitted to play. As Otis pointed out, the titans of poker literature were inspired by the WSOP. Without Al Alvarez, Tony Holden, Jesse May, Jim McManus, Michael Craig, Peter Alson, and Andy Glazer, many of us would not be playing in the WSOP today.
I'm incensed. Writers in Hollywood have unions, but poker media doesn't have a union. Hacks steal content all the time. Our rates get undercut by clueless noobs who practically give away their souls for free. Our employers have pissing matches and disputes against one another, which pit us grunts against each other. The poker media used to be a family when I got into poker in the mid 00s. These days, it got turned into your worst high school nightmare. Toss into the equation desperate economic times, rising gas prices, Black Friday, and the removal of the golden carrot.
No soup for you. No golden carrots either.
What kept many poker reporters in the trenches was the proverbial American Dream -- that one day we'll be on the other side of the TV table and instead of hunched over our laptops in the darkness, that maybe we'd be the ones flinging chips across the table, jawing back and forth with Phil Hellmuth, check-raising Phil Ivey with air, and chasing down the poker player's universal dream -- to win a WSOP bracelet.
By denying media reps the opportunity to play in the WSOP events, the same exact dream that the powers to be ask us to promote has been crushed, smashed, and obliterated into a million little pieces.
Morale had been at an all-time low for my brothers and sisters in the poker media. Just when we thought we had the WSOP to look forward to, the powers to be give everyone another reason to despise the establishment even more so. If the goal was to alienate the press, well congrats. The fingers that peck away at the keyboard, which unleash warm-felt messages of propaganda, have been crushed by the bourgeois.
Show your solidarity... buy an official Benjo BOOSHIT t-shirt and wear it at the WSOP. We also have stickers for $4.20. All proceeds will go toward covering our bar tab at the 2011 World Series of Pai Gow.
Update... Pissed Off Poker Media 1, WSOP 0
2:40pm PT... less than an hour after the shit storm erupted, the WSOP admitted they made an error and will be revising this "unwritten rule" to find a compromise with media members who want to play in the WSOP.
Here are the tweets from @WSOP...
Is it too late to say April Fools Poker Media? (j/k) I screwed up. I hear you. We'll come up with an alternative that lets u do both.Here's when I use my Johnny Drama voice and scream, "Victory!!!!"
Give me a day to vet, but I think there's a way to do this that is more fair. Will provide details as soon as we can, but please rest easy.
Glad the powers to be realized they made an error. Kudos to the WSOP staff (Ty, Seth, et al) for their quick and decisive action in correcting a hot button issue.
I'm also proud with the entire poker media (along with pros and readers). We all banded together to fight for a unified cause. We forced change when we saw an obvious injustice. Everyone helped pile on their contempt for this obviously retarded unwritten rule.
Now let's take this one step further... if we can all just come together and form a union so we can: 1) demand a minimum wage rate (to protect us from tyrannical Napoleonic overlords continuously lowering the daily rate to a bag of peanuts), 2) demand higher wages and get overtime, 3) subsidies for health insurance, and 4) guarantee that editors will punish habitual plagiarism... then maybe we can actually be recognized as force to be reckoned with.
We could control the press because we are the press, but we're controlled by corporate interests and as a result, we've become too chicken shit to speak our minds. Poker writers of the world... unite!